Spanish was Carolina Robles’ first language.
Born in Mexico, the 16-year-old came to the United States with her parents when she was just 1 year old.
She learned English before starting school by watching instructional videos with her mom.
“English came fast to me,” said the Lakewood 11th-grader, who’s a top student and leader at Harrison Preparatory School in the Clover Park School District. “It was never a challenge for me.”
This summer, Robles paid it forward by helping younger bilingual students enrolled in summer school at Oakwood Elementary. The monthlong program ended Thursday.
“I like being around kids,” Robles said. “Some of them know me from the neighborhood or from church.”
She attended elementary school at Oakwood, which serves students in north Lakewood. Her mom suggested she volunteer at her neighborhood school last summer, and she liked it so much, she returned this year. This summer, she has been helping out in the classroom of math teacher Liz Colleran.
“She’s really patient with the kids and does a great job of explaining,” Colleran said.
Colleran doesn’t speak Spanish. More than 10 of the 15 students in her classroom do.
She said most of the third-through-fifth-graders in her summer class know enough English to understand what’s being taught.
But she said having a Spanish-speaking volunteer to assist helps, especially when communicating with parents. And it doesn’t hurt that Robles also is good at her job.
“The kids really enjoy spending time with her,” Colleran said. “They don’t see her as a teacher, but more as a friend.”
“I have to guide them,” Robles said. “I like the feeling I get helping students.”
She said kids sometimes ask for her help in Spanish.
“Ven aqui,” they’ll say. “Come here.”
Teachers at Oakwood remember Robles as a shy student. But they say her involvement at Harrison Prep has helped her blossom. In addition to serving as part of her school’s student government, she is a member of the Lakewood Youth Council.
Even though Robles loves working with children, she isn’t set on a career in teaching and isn’t sure what she wants to do. She’s waiting to see how chemistry class goes this year. If she does well, she might consider the medical field. If not, she’s thinking college professor.
“Right now, I’m thinking about everything,” she said.
Whatever path she pursues, she’ll likely do it with enthusiasm. She said her parents always wanted the best for her and her two brothers, and she’s tried to live up to their wishes.
“My dad always said that you have to be better than anyone else,” she said. “You have to work twice as hard.”
With a cumulative GPA of 3.89, Robles is gearing up for a challenging junior year in her high school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, a rigorous curriculum that includes instruction in traditional college prep courses, along with reflections on the nature of knowledge, community service and a major research paper.
“School has always been my favorite thing,” she said.
She’s determined to follow in her older brother Rolando’s footsteps, graduate at the top of her high school class and head to college on a scholarship.
“He was the first high school graduate in our family,” she said. “I will be the second. He is my No. 1 inspiration.”